The Canadian foreign minister, Peter Mackay said “Look, this isn’t the 15th century. You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory.'” 1 Mackay’s remark was aimed at the Russia. Russia placed a Russian flag on the sea floor beneath the North Pole, and it indicates how much sovereignty of North and Arctic is important now and future.2
Arctic is generally known as cold place to live. Arctic has thick glaciers are all through the year, and it seems like barren land. Then how could Arctic became a conflict area? It might sound weird, but nations around the Arctic believe that melting ice due to the global warming will bring trillions of dollars in new wealth.3 Nations around the Arctic are expecting that ice melts will make oil and gas exploration easier than before and open new trade routes which can reduce the sailing time.4
Oil and gas are one of the biggest resources that human being use for various purposes in all over the world. Due to the importance of resources, there is oil-rich countries in the Middle East which can preserve their countries by only exporting oils. It shows how much natural resources are economically beneficial to countries. In case of Russia, 15% to 20% of their GDP comes from natural resources. 5 Also, US estimates that up to 15% of the world’s remaining oil, 20 % of liquefied natural gas, and 30% of natural gas deposits are stored in the Arctic seabed. 6 Even we don’t know exact amount of natural resources we use per year, we can assume that Arctic has huge amount of natural resources. In my opinion, if certain country could monopolize these resources, it definitely could effect on economics and also, could be used as politically. For example, if Russia take possessions of the Arctic, US will have hard time to touch on Russia’s actions such as Ukraine issues. The reason why is if I am a person in the Russia government, I would definitely use oil power as a wild card in every political issues. Such as threatening other countries that Russia will stop exporting oils and other natural resources and make oil price in the world increase massively. I believe it could be a wild card for any nations which obtain territorial rights of Arctic.
The other benefit of taking Arctic is the new trade route that will be made due to the ice melts. When we look the world map that is rectangle shaped, people might think North America, Asia, and Europe is pretty far away from each other. However, if we look close to the top side of the globe we can easily notice that each continents are not really far from the others. Last year, the northern sea route was open about 6 months and assume it will increase to 8 months within a decade so, the scientists assume that Arctic won’t have ice during the summer by 2030.7 It sounds awful in the aspect of environmental issues, however in economical view, Jong-Deog Kim, a division director at the South Korean Maritime Institute, said that the new route between Europe and Asia will account for 25% of all cargo traffic by 2030. 8 These conditions are all applied to the countries around the Arctic, and they could get benefit by reducing the trade routes. In addition to use the new routes, there should be no legal problem such as dominium of certain ocean. Currently, Russia and Norway submitted an extended continental shelf claim to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which claims certain natural resources of the seabed is theirs.9 If countries could prove that their continental shelf is lying on the respective resources, UNCLOS accepts that is belongs to those countries.10
The territorial conflict in Arctic seems a new version of cold war. Canada, Denmakr, US, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Russia are main countries that are trying to obtain benefit from Arctic and especially Russia is the most actively moving countries between these countries. Russia has 40 icebreakers and planning to build 11 more and China has interest in Arctic due to strategic issues.11 However, US has only 2 icebreakers when Russia is placing large-scale military exercise. 12
I believe other nations around the Arctic will act more actively to gain benefit from Arctic. This issue will probably become bigger than now as 2030 comes and ice melts. Some nations might form a military alliance to protect regions that they believe it belongs to them against others. Perhaps some continental shelf might be connected to the other nations so, it could be difficult to judge which country has authority to the resources and UN might make new laws about it. In my opinion, not only US but also other nations should actively react to the Russia’s action at least to make a balance of territorial rights on Arctic.
(I tried to upload the picture of Arctic, but I failed. Please look up the picture under the source that I wrote. It will help you to understand how the world looks like when we see at the Arctic side.)
Source: Graphic by Stephen Rountree at U.S. News and World Report, http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/world/2008/10/09/global-warming-triggers-an-international-race-for-the-artic/photos/#1
- CTV.ca News Staff, “Arctic sovereignty an ‘important issue’: Harper.” CTV News, August 2, 2007. Accessed September 11, 2015. http://www.ctvnews.ca/arctic-sovereignty-an-important-issue-harper-1.251120/
- Lynch, David, “Arctic Nations Joust But North Pole Payoff May Be Years Away.” Bloomberg Business, August 28, 2015. Accessed September 11, 2015. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-28/arctic-nations-joust-but-north-pole-payoff-may-be-decades-away/
- Deahn, Andy, “Arctic Geopolitics: Future Conflict Beyond the Caspian.” Modern Diplomacy, September 4, 2015. Accessed September 12, 2015. http://moderndiplomacy.eu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=964:arctic-geopolitics-future-conflict-beyond-the-caspian&Itemid=480/
- Bender, Jeremy, “The US is upping its intelligence game in the Arctic.” Business Insider, September 8, 2015. Accessed September 12, 2015. http://www.businessinsider.com/the-us-is-upping-its-intelligence-game-in-the-arctic-2015-9/
- Koranyi, Balazs, “Ice leves, rule changes to boost Arctic Northern sea route.” Reuters, May 29, 2013. Accessed September 13, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/29/shipping-arctic-idUSL5N0EA0RF20130529/
- Foizee, Bahauddin, “Race to Arctic Oceanic Region.” Dhakacourier, August 27, 2015. Accessed September 13, 2015. http://www.dhakacourier.com.bd/race-to-arctic-oceanic-region/
- “Race for Arctic resources.” VOVworld, September 8, 2015. Accessed September 13, 2015. http://vovworld.vn/en-US/Current-Affairs/Race-for-Arctic-resources/366213.vov